Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Lost Voice of Radio Beijing

by G. Jack Urso

On the evening of June 3, 1989, I was working the overnight shift at WQBK-1300 AM. At the time, the station was located on an isolated hill outside Albany, New York. The networks were buzzing with news of the violent crackdown on the pro-democracy protestors in Tiananmen Square. The teletype clacked away every few minutes with the latest reports. In the days before the World Wide Web, there was little to do but wait for the next report to come through. 
Looking for more news beyond our network feed, I began to surf the frequencies on the satellite dish. Eventually, I picked up an audio feed of an English-speaking announcer for Radio Beijing who reported the news of the massacre at Tiananmen Square. I’m not sure if this was a part of a network news feed or just a stray signal I caught, but I felt an immediate connection to my fellow broadcaster. It was also obvious to anyone who followed the news that the Communist Chinese government’s response would fall harshly on those who broke the wall of silence. I wondered if I would have the same courage had I been in his place.
The audio I recorded from the broadcast is available below. To view some rare photographs from the massacre, click here for an age-restricted version on YouTube I produced in conjunction with my research on this event.

Knowing the historical significance of the broadcast, I transferred it from reel-to-reel tape to a cart (see Fig. 1). Carts look like 8-track cartridges and come in varying lengths. They were used for playing everything from station IDs and bumpers, to commercials, public service announcements, interviews, and music. Looking back at the state of radio news gathering in 1989, with no computers or Internet, and only antiquated relics like teletype, carts, and reel-to-reel, I still marvel at how we got any work done. 

Fig. 1: The cart I recorded the Radio Beijing announcement onto on June 4, 1989.
Producing History

I produced my first report on this broadcast in 2000 while taking a course in Producing Historical Documentaries for Radio with Professor Gerald Zahavi at the University at Albany while working on my master’s degree. The web page for the course, at the time of this writing, is still available at the above link. There, you can find my original short audio documentary, The Lost Voice of Radio Beijing, which I converted and uploaded to YouTube, below:
Professor Zahavi also broadcast my report on his Talking History program on WRPI-90.9 FM, the radio station for the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in 2000 and 2001. 

Transcription of Original Radio Beijing Broadcast - June 3, 1989:
This is Radio Beijing. Please remember June the third, 1989. The most tragic event happened in the Chinese capital, Beijing.
Thousands of people, most of them innocent civilians, were killed by fully armed soldiers when they forced their way into the city. Among the killed are our colleagues at Radio Beijing.
The soldiers were riding on armored vehicles and used machine guns against thousands of local residents and students who tried to block their way. When the army convoys made a breakthrough, soldiers continued to spray their bullets indiscriminately at crowds in the street.
Eyewitnesses say some armored vehicles even crushed foot soldiers who hesitated in front of the resisting civilians.
Radio Beijing English Department deeply mourns those died in the tragic incident and appeals to all its listeners to join our protest for the gross violation of human rights and the most barbarous suppression of the people.
Because of this abnormal situation here in Beijing, there is no other news we could bring you. We sincerely ask for your understanding and thank you for joining us at this most tragic moment.

While working on the report for the class, I contacted Radio Free Asia in Washington D.C. in the hope that someone there might have some information about the announcer. Through an interpreter, I was able to speak with a former Radio Beijing reporter who was actually at Tiananmen Square the evening of June 3, 1989. She didn’t know who the announcer was, but said she would look into it and let me know if she found out anything.
Fig. 2: FCC Restricted Radio Telephone Operator Permit:
Issued January 31, 1986.
About six months later, well after the course had ended, I received an e-mail from my contact at Radio Free Asia who informed me of that the announcer’s name is Yuan Neng (a mistranslation of Chen Yuanneng) and he was transferred from his job for broadcasting the report. The script was by Wu Xiaoyong, Deputy Director of the English Language Service at Radio Beijing. His father, Wu Xueqian, at the time was a Senior Council Vice-President. According to my contact, after the broadcast, Wu was put under house arrest for two to three years and later moved to Hong Kong. His father’s connections likely played a part in his release. 

Fig. 3: Human Rights Watch listing, Dec. 1989.
Recent research confirmed my contact’s report of Wu Xiaoyong in the document, The Persecution of Human Rights Monitors: December 1988 to December 1989, by Human Rights Watch (December 1989) (see Fig. 3).  The eventual fate of the announcer Yuan Neng is not reported. [See updates.

China is seeking a balance between its capitalist ambitions and cultural traditions; however, one wonders if the threat the Chinese Communist government perceived in 1989 was not so much a fear of revolution per se, but rather that the moral imperative through which all governments derive their power, the consent of the people, would vanish in the face of true competition in the marketplace of ideas.

UPDATE June 4, 2015: Through various sources, including a reader of Aeolus 13 Umbra and a Canadian film documentarian, it has been reported that Yuan Neng is alive and living in the United States, but does not wish to discuss the events of June 3-4, 1989, at this time.
UPDATE February 2019: The Lost Voice of Radio Beijing announcer’s full name is reported as Chen Yuanneng (see comments, below). My previous reporting of Yuan Neng (see above) is attributed to mistranslations in my communications with Radio Free Asia personnel in late 2000.
UPDATE May 2019: Photos of Chen Yuanneng and Wu Xiaoyong posted by 881903.com, the official website of Commercial Radio Hong Kong (thank you Aeolus 13 Umbra reader Lu butsch for the tip). Chen Yuanneng is reported by 881903.com to have been working in the "high-tech industry" in Los Angeles" at the time of the publication of the article, May 13, 2014. The images below are from the report. 
                        Chen Yuanneng                                               Wu Xiaoyong
UPDATE Jan. 2023: By December 2022, and probably much earlier, the 881903.com article about Chen Yuanneng and Wu Xiaoyong was deleted (the original article link is http://www.881903.com/Page/ZH-TW/News_Featuredetail.aspx?itemid=717916&csid=901_3580). A search of 889103.com's website turns up no references to either Chen Yuanneng or Wu Xiaoyong. Likewise, the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine reveals no captures made of that article. The images above with the 889103 logo were saved by myself off the article when it was still active. 
For the purposes of documentation, I am including the full transcription of the article below. The translation from Cantonese to English, provided by an online translation program, is a little rough and unclear in some places, but provides a good idea of the article's original content:

Interview: Pan Zhiqian for 881903.com.

For many years online spread an excerpt, the content has the reporter of Chinese Official Broadcasting station, breaks through the information blockade in 64 the same day, in the central media condemned that the government suppressed the student. This reporter to tell truth, has paid the heavy price, his for 25 years accept the visit for the first time, the matter that the review had that morning.

After 1989 had the June 4 incident, for in the inland official media, strove for one-and-a-half points of freedom of the press, Wu Xiaoyong used four years of personal freedom to exchange. In the early morning, he has written a news release, Beijing standard time 7:00 am, gave the radio announcer to report.

Content that at that time broadcast: "Here is Beijing International Broadcasting Corporation. Please remember on June 3, 1989, had the most shocking tragedy in the capital Beijing of China. Thousands of people, mostly is the innocent resident, was entered the fully-armed soldiers in city to kill forcefully . . . The soldiers are driving the tank, tries to stop the resident and student who with the machine gun strafe. Even if after the tank opens the channel, soldier still at a promiscuous manner the person on opening fire street . . . The Beijing international radio station English department deeply mourns slain the person in this tragedy, and appealed to all our audience: With us condemned that this type tramples the human rights shameless and suppresses the people's act barbarically."

This news by Chinese official International Broadcasting Corporation, from Beijing to international broadcast. Wu Xiaoyong was broadcasting station English department deputy director, on the morning of June 4 rode the bicycle to go to work at that time, witnessed on the way the serviceman and tank suppressed the resident. He returns to the broadcasting station, learned that has the colleague, because the internal organs were punctured dead by the bullet, had the colleague relative dead.

At this time he decided that must tell a truth. "Human died, did we tell a truth not to be good? This truth we said today that broadcast." 16 lines of news releases, were Wu Xiaoyong wrote with two minutes in the grief and indignation fast. Wu Xiaoyong said that he did not approve then student movement, moreover held the post of the state workers more than ten years, understood the consequence of publishing absolutely, but he cannot accept the People's Liberation Army to attack the people.

 "The Chinese People's Liberation Army is the army of people, the army of your people hits the people, is this does do? Army not such dry, has killed the human, the tank such presses." Soon Wu Xiaoyong then carried off, in not hands over to catch and not have the prosecution, not to have under the sentence, around was detained Canada puts under house arrest for four years.

We asked that he does have the regret, he said: "Now thinks, if makes me make one again this matter, perhaps I this. But said from another angle, I thought that I have not made the mistake any matter, I handled the matter that a reporter should handle. "

Wu Xiaoyong who in the recent 20 years moved to the U.S. sighs with regret and spoke the price of lie to be big in the foreign country, reviewed is speaks the truth price to be big in China. The same day radio announcer Chen Yuan can, be punished afterward, was transferred a news post, afterward went through many places to Los Angeles is engaged in the high-tech industry.

On the same day the sound recording of news has spread online, Chen Yuan can be called "on electric wave keeps off the person of tank." Wu Xiaoyong and Chen Yuan and former colleague Rose still held an office in the International Broadcasting Corporation, she said the media person, regardless of works for whom, should maintain the conscience. Until now, whenever with the new colleague, as well as wants to enter line of young people to chat, Rose still proud to they spoke Wu Xiaoyong and Chen Yuan can the story.

Related Content on Aeolus 13 Umbra 
The Bloodied Face of Democracy: Tiananmen Square 25 Years Later



  1. This information is incorrect. I worked at China Radio International for 5 years an personally know the Deputy Director of the English Service who retired in 2005 as well as the daughter of what at one time was known as Radio Peking's first English announcer. When I left CRI I took with the original tapes from that period. Also Radio Beijing at the time did not use satellite as a distribution platform. Satellite came years later. What you have is an off air recorded made off shortwave. Cui Hong who has been at CRI for over 30 years told me who it was and it's not him. I also know Lin Shao Wen who for years worked in the English Service and is now in the central Chinese newsroom . I remember in 2002 going thought the tape archives of CRI on the 1st floor of their building in West Beijing all the original tapes dated June 2 to June 6th are missing. But A friend in the frequency department has old cassette copies, which I know have. These will be released down the road.

    1. I believe it is you sir who is incorrect, mainly because I'm not clear on exactly what you are asserting, particularly as you were not at the radio station that evening in 1989. I recorded the broadcast, and it was off a satellite feed. How it got on satellite, I cannot say, and state as much in my post, if you read it.

      I suggest you move beyond your assumptions of the state of Chinese broadcast technology in 1989 and instead take a step back and realize that this momentous event was being monitored by every major news service in the world. It does not take much to realize that it was likely recorded by a major news organization off shortwave and re-packaged as part of a news feed.

      If you read my post, I state quite clearly I did not know how this broadcast ended up on satellite. I make absolutely no claims regarding Chinese broadcast technology in 1989.

      Who you know in China is basically irrelevant. I was there at the radio station. I recorded it. I investigated it with reporters at Radio Free Asia.

      If your colleagues in China have a different opinion on the matter, they are free to post their evidence right here.

      I look forward to their feedback.

    2. 6 years later - still no word from Keith Perron at PCJ Media. So much for your "tapes" Keith.

  2. Well, nearly a year has passed and still no word from PCJ Media or his friends in mainland China state-sanctioned radio stations...go figure...

  3. Nice article. There are good information about China Radio International. It is useful for china people. I like this kind of Blog. Thanks for admin. He is great. If anyone like to get informatics blog about China Radio International please click here.
    Beijing radio

  4. Thank you for this post. Am I to understand that to this day no one knows what became of Yuan Neng? Seems like it is something worth investigating further! Someone should take the time to tell his story.

  5. Thank you for asking! To my complete surprise, I only learned within the past month that Yuan Neng is indeed still alive! I did not have the pleasure of speaking with him myself, but a documentary filmmaker who became interested in my story contacted me and used her resources to track him down - and he is living in the United States.

    According to my contact, Mr. Neng does not feel the time is yet right for him to discuss his story. He may still have family in China, and very likely saw some horrible things that evening, so we have to respect his wishes.

    I do not feel I am liberty to identify Mr. Neng's location, nor the documentary filmmaker who approached me about his story. If it all goes well, in a couple years we may finally see a documentary about "The Lost Voice of Radio Beijing," and I truly hope so. It is a story long overdue to be told to an wider audience. Hopefully, Mr. Neng will wish to share his story with the filmmaker, and I truly hope he does so. Every year that passes, the Tiananmen Square Massacre gets less and less coverage and the valiant sacrifice of so many, including Mr. Neng who had to flee his homeland, becomes forgotten - but never here!

  6. Yes i am totally agreed with this article and i just want say that this article is very nice and very informative article.I will make sure to be reading your blog more. You made a good point but I can't help but wonder, what about the other side? !!!!!!Thanks produzioni audio

  7. Du Ping(杜平) (now in Phonixtv凤凰卫视) worked as the Radio Beijing's correspondant at that time. He wrote a book in 2017 which introduces more about what happened to Radio Beijing that night. Wu Xiaoyong(吴晓镛), the head of English service of Radio Beijing in 1989, witnessed many people's injury and death on his way to Radio Station. The news was written by him and should have been read by him as well. But his colleagues at radio station thought the price that Wu had to pay would be unbearable. So, Chen Yuanneng(陈原能)read the news. Before June 4th incident, Chen Yuanneng was regarded as a backbone of the station. Radio Beijing had planned to send him to America for further trainning. After June 4th, he was once banned from travelling abroad and lost his job.Wu Xiaoyong now worked as the head of Phonenixtv American Channel(凤凰卫视美洲台).And what happened to Chen Yuanneng later remains a secret even in Chinese World.I think many kind-hearted people choose to hide the truth so as to protect him

    1. Thank you so much for your update! So, Chen Yuanneg is his full name . . .30 years later I am still learning something new. I am very grateful for your information. A Canadian documentarian you contacted me about this story tracked Chen down, but he understandably refused an interview. Wu and Chen were very brave that day and they are overdue for recognition for their courage.

  8. Dear Mr. Urso
    You can find a photo of Chen Yuanneng(陈原能)in the following webpage, he was living in the United States in 2014. Perhaps he is living in the United States now.

    1. WOW! I can't tell you how much it means to me to be able to see their pictures AFTER 30 years! You made my day. I was able to have the article translated and it confirmed what I was told previously by another Aeolus 13 umbra reader, that Chen Yuanneng is indeed living in the US. Great info and thanks for the link!

  9. https://books.google.ru/books?id=wyBYDwAAQBAJ&lpg=PA271&ots=WIF9zuhNKv&dq=%E6%9D%9C%E5%B9%B3%20%E5%87%A4%E5%87%B0%E5%8D%AB%E8%A7%86%20%E6%88%91%E5%9C%A8%E5%AA%92%E4%BD%93%E8%BF%99%E4%BA%9B%E5%B9%B4&pg=PA75#v=snippet&q=%E6%99%93%E9%95%9B&f=false

    Here's the book written by Du Ping... His description of what happened that night starts from Page 75...Under the subtitle: 那一夜我全然无眠 (That night I couldn't sleep at all)

    1. Thank you for the reference! I can't read Chinese, but maybe I can find someone to translate that passage for me.

  10. Please continue this great work and I look forward to more of your awesome blog posts. Chinese culture

  11. Great blog, great work! The June 4th massacre will never be forgotten and the truth will be known by the world in the future ---- because of so many people like you who never give up.

    Thank you, Mr. Urso!


    A former journalist from china
    June 4th, 2019

    1. Thank you Zhanwang. Coming from a former journalist from China, your comments mean a lot to me.

  12. The FCC license is interesting. The same one we use as pilots internationally. Did you need it for the job at the time? Alex.

    1. At the time I got it in college I was told it was required if I wanted to be an on-air announcer or board operator, but after the job at the station noted above no other station ever asked me for it, nor did they seem to care. So, maybe there was a change in law. Now I'm curious!

    2. http://www.nationalradioexaminers.com/page.php?id=33

    3. Thanks for the link. It would be great to get behind the mic again someday!

  13. Thank you for sharing this recording. At the time I was an avid listener of shortwave radio and a collector of QSL cards. I remember listening this broadcast from Radio Peking.

    1. Thank you for reading and listening! We are among a dwindling group of radio hounds.

  14. "His father, Wu Xueqian, at the time was a Senior Council Vice-President."

    Wu Xuqian is the Vice Premier of the State Council, not the Senior Council Vice-President.

    1. Thank you for that clarification. I am reporting it as Human Rights Watch reported it. It seems like something that may have been "lost in translation," as the saying goes.

    2. The State Council is China's cabinet, the country's highest administrative organ. The head of the State Council is the Premier, and the Vice Premier is the deputy head of the State Council. The State Council has several Vice Premiers, each of whom is in charge of a specific area. And in 1989, Wu Xueqian was the Vice Premier in charge of foreign affairs.